The Tinsleys

When I was a kid my mom cleaned houses for a living. One of the houses she cleaned belonged to a husband and wife named Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley. The Tinsleys were very retired, and lived in a large house in Leavenworth, near the public library. I’m not sure what they had done in their working lives, but Mr. Tinsley, who sat in his home office all day, smoking cigars, and swiveling around in an old wooden rolling chair, had the mark of a lawyer, or maybe a CPA. He wore suspenders, and used a cane, on the rare occasions that I saw him get up from his desk.

Mrs. Tinsley could have been a school teacher, or a stay-at-home mom, or even a piano instructor. Maybe she was all those things. Maybe she was none of those things, I just don’t know, I don’t remember ever asking. What I do remember is sitting on the steps that connected the family room with the second level, while my mom vacuumed the upstairs bedrooms, and watching Jeopardy with Mrs. Tinsley, while she sat across the room in a recliner, and offered me fistfuls of those hard strawberry candies, with the gooey centers.

Mrs. Tinsely loved Bill Clinton. Mr. Tinsley hated him. Mrs. Tinsley crouched doilies and read magazines. Mr. Tinsely yelled at the Meals on Wheels delivery woman, and wrote my mother checks every Tuesday afternoon for her services.

Their house was in a row of houses on their street that were all very old. Some had started to fall down, while others were being bought and remodeled. Their house was somewhere in the middle, in dire need of updating, but still working for the two of them. Regardless, they had a formal living room, which I always associated with “rich people,” and I liked to spend a lot of time sitting in the “fancy” chairs in there, reading teeny-bopper magazines, and watching out the big picture window.

Their house even had a large wrap-around porch on the front, with a couple of rocking chairs. Somedays I would pass the two hours or so rocking on their porch. At the end of the street there was a house that had been turned into a retirement home. Or maybe it was less of a retirement home, and more of a nursing home. It had a lot of people in wheel chairs, sitting outside when we pulled up, and in the exact same spot when we left. I often wondered who pushed them out there, and who brought them back in. I hoped someone brought them back in.

It was an interesting dichotomy, trying to figure out how those people at the end of the street, sitting alone all day in wheelchairs in the grass, who were relatively the same age as The Tinsleys, managed to find themselves there, rather than living in their own large home, with a woman who cleaned it for them once a week, and people who delivered their food everyday. It didn’t add up to me, and if I’m being honest, it still doesn’t. Though it’s certainly more sad now, because I’m older and I know what I know. Still…

One of the last times I remember going to The Tinsleys’ my mom asked me to take a bag of trash out back for her. I didn’t usually do much helping when she cleaned houses, but every once in awhile she would ask me to take some trash out, or wipe down a mirror or something menial, particularly if I was following her around being annoying. This day I had the bag of trash in my hand and I walked out the back door, down a few steps, and out the back of the fence to the alley where the trash cans sat. I heaved the trash bag over the fence, into the can, when something shiny caught my eye.

Down the alley was an older woman, with a walker, slowly making her way toward me. She was dressed in sweats, and a shirt that looked like it had been worn for days. She was saying something but I couldn’t understand her. The more I waited, the closer she came, the closer she got to me, I realized she was calling for something, or someone. I wasn’t sure what to do so I sort of just froze at the fence, nervously looking back at the Tinsley’s house, hoping my mom would come out. Before she got any closer to me a woman dressed in scrubs came running down the alley after the woman with the walker. She ran up behind the woman, and put her hand on her shoulder. This scared the woman, and the nurse assured her she was okay, then told her they needed to go back in. The nurse saw me then, and told me that the woman was looking for her missing cat. I was immediately upset for her, and told the nurse that I hadn’t seen a cat, but that I would keep an eye out. The nurse just smiled, and waved my suggestion away, “There’s no cat,” she said, and she put her arm around the woman and they walked slowly back to the house at the end of the street.

Later that night when I told my mom what I had seen, she told me that some people forget things when they get older. What the nurse likely meant, was that the woman was looking for a cat she had once had, probably years and years ago, back when she lived in her own house. This was hard for me to understand at the time, but now, of course, I do.

I’m not sure what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley, I have a faint memory of my mother telling me of their passing at some point in my teen years, but I always wondered about them. And I’ve often wondered about the woman in the alley searching for her lost cat. I suppose I always will, because if you ask me, we all have our cats we are looking for. And we always will.

M.

Field Day, 2019

Today has been a busy day, and it isn’t even lunch time yet! Whew! We were up at ’em at 5:30 this morning to take Mama to the airport. (She landed safely in Kansas City at 10:00 am), then we got back to Tucker, dropped Jackson off to school, and Jerimiah and I had a nice, quiet breakfast at Matthews Cafeteria. Then it was back to school to participate in Field Day. Well, participate is a stretch, as we were just spectators. It was also the first Field Day that I didn’t volunteer to work! It was amazing to be able to move from activity to activity and not be stuck at a damn sno-cone machine, or in this case, the apple slices station! But bless the mommies and daddies who did it!

It was a fun, old-fashioned field day too! Complete with a balloon pop (of which Jerimiah and I did end up working because it takes all hands on deck for that one), a three-legged race, a relay race, and the parachute! Oh the parachute! As soon as we walked into the cafeteria to watch them with the parachute I was transported. All the way back to my elementary days at Anthony Elementary School. Back, back, way back, to Mr. Hendee and the bouncing parachute. It was just what I needed to see.

Jackson’s class was steady in second place for all the activities (there are three fifth grade classes), and when the kids were telling us that was okay, the Spanish teacher at the school overheard and whispered to Jerimiah and me, “Well this class may have taken second, but they are always FIRST in behavior. Man, this is a good class!” We beamed, cause yeah, we saw it with our own eyes. I told Jerimiah later that I felt lucky to have Jackson in such a good class, and he laughed and reminded me that it wasn’t luck. It was hard work in parenting to get our kid into the classes that he is in. It’s kinda neat having a kiddo that all the teachers want in their class. (Excuse me while I pat us on the back…) And honestly, there are a lot of “Jacksons” in his class. That’s why they took second so many times. They went slow and steady. Even in the three-legged race, when some of the other classes had kids sorta pulling their partners along, Jackson’s class was slow and measured. “This is what happens when you have a group of perfectionists,” Jackson’s teacher whispered to us. It was super cute to watch.

Anyhoo, here are some pics of the morning. It was a bit chilly down here, so some of the activities (most of them) were inside because y’all, Georgia kids cannot handle 50 degree temps! 🙂

Here’s to fun, old-fashioned field days!

M.

Look Both Ways

My mom told me a story the other day about the time I was almost hit by a reckless driver. She was dropping me off at school. I must have been a freshman, or maybe it was early sophomore year. That’s when she was still driving me to school everyday, rather than me hitching rides with friends. The street that runs perpendicular to my high school had a stop sign right across from the entrance I used to go into school everyday. So my mom would sort of roll up to the stop sign, and stop long enough for me to hop out, then she’d make sure I got safely across the street before she turned right and headed to work. The whole drop-off probably took less than 30 seconds, on average, because my mom drove an ugly, beat-up 1984 Chevy Nova, with one door that was primed, but not painted. It wasn’t ideal for my teenage psyche to be dropped off each day, so I tried my best to not be seen by anyone.

The street that I had to cross, 10th Avenue, was pretty busy in the morning. 10th Avenue is one of the main arteries that runs through Leavenworth, and it leads all the way from the city limits, to the road that leads to the entrance of Fort Leavenworth. So one can imagine that every school day, in a high school with roughly 1,200 students, it was clogged up a bit there. Sometimes my mom would be waiting to turn long after I had already crossed the street.

This particular day she did her slow roll to a stop. There were several cars behind us, as there usually were, and I hopped out. The road was busy like normal, so I had to stand for a few seconds before I could safely cross. There was no crossing guard at this section of 10th Avenue. Eventually there was a break in the traffic and my mom watched me step out into the street to cross. That’s when a car from the line behind her jetted out of line, cut her off, and turned right, crossing my path at the moment I was starting to take my leave of the corner. I apparently stepped back, a little bewildered, while my mom screamed obscenities. Then I went on about my day.

I do not remember this moment. To be clear when she asked me about it, I was confused. I have no recollection of ever being “almost hit” at high school. I guess it just wasn’t a big deal to me. But to my mother, to any mother, it would be the sort of heart-sinking feeling you don’t forget.

It’s funny what we remember and what we don’t. What sticks with us. What teaches us lessons. I’ve always been careful when crossing a street. And I’ve crossed a lot of streets alone, even as a child. And maybe there was a reason. Maybe this was the reason. I just don’t know.

Remember to look both ways, y’all.

M.

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Sunday mornings were never easy for me. Especially pre-Jackson. Pre-Jackson I always worked on Sunday mornings, because pre-Jackson I lacked a college education, and that meant I had jobs that paid little, involved menial work, and often times required me to work weekends, because if you work in the hospitality industry, or retail, and you don’t have kids guess what you work? Yeah, the shit shifts. In the restaurant business Sunday mornings blow for a multitude of reasons, hungover people calling out, late cooks, dirty store from the slackers that worked Saturday night close, but mainly it’s the uppity after-church patrons who have the capacity, and oftentimes the desire, to screw up your morning with a negative, hateful attitude. What?! Aren’t people filled with joy and grace after just having been filled by the good Lord’s word? You’d think, but nah. They saved up all their patience and restraint while they were at church, which means their brunch server gets the shaft. But this post isn’t about those assholes, this post is about a Sunday morning shift that I didn’t mind working, at Buster’s Video/Laundromat.

Another video store, Missy, are you serious? Dead. I have worked at three video stores in my life. 1. Home Video the place with the, ahem, “backroom” that I told y’all about last week. 2. Blockbuster, which I promise will get its own post one day, and 3. Buster’s Video/Laundromat, which was an obvious knock-off of Blockbuster, which is kinda why I liked it so much, expcept for that one teensy difference, the laundromat attached to it. (Well, technically I worked at four video stores, because I worked for both corporate Blockbuster and a franchise, and although they were the same video store brand, they were way different. Christ, Missy, stay on topic!)

Buster’s Video/Laundromat was unique because of the laundromat situation, but also because Buster’s Video was independently owned and operated. There were three of them (that I remember) in Southern Missouri, between Ozark and Hollister, and I worked at the one in Hollister, Missouri, which is a little town right across Lake Taneycomo, a stone’s throw away from Branson. And as I might have mentioned it was the only one that had a laundromat attached to it. And yes, it was attached. And yes, I was responsible for running the laundromat and the video store at the same time. And yes, the laundromat was called the “Ye Old Wash House” and yes, it was as fucking bizarre as it sounds. I even found some pics because I know sometimes y’all think I am a lying sack of shit. These are all current pics, so it wasn’t this nice when I worked there, but in the first one you can see the whole building. Buster’s was right under the “Parking in Back” sign, that was the front door of the video store, and yeah I parked in the back which was a gravel pit, and that is where the Buster Patrons parked too.

This second pic shows some major updating since the time I worked there, which was around 2004. And when I saw the pics of the inside I was AMAZED because not much has changed, and really, it should have by now.

Oh, you know what, I take that back. It didn’t have video games back then. So there you go. Same white folding tables, though. Same “Homestyle Washers” (though the sign is new), same old blue chairs and tile floor, and same old quarter machine that I wanted to kill. Literally. Strangle it. (The more I look at the pics, the more I assume they busted down the Buster’s walls and made the “Ye Old Wash House” bigger and more badass. Which really is what they should have done from the get-go because how Buster’s made any money, I will never know. But they made enough to pay me $8/hour, so whateves.

So why did I love this place on Sunday mornings? Because no one comes to the damn video store on Sunday mornings, and even less people do their laundry on Sunday mornings. People sleep in, I guess. Or maybe go to church. But I had to be there at nine a.m. every Sunday to open both the laundromat and the video store, and sometimes, if I was very lucky, I wouldn’t talk to a soul until noon. And since my shift ended 2:00 pm, it was the best of best days.

I would walk through slowly, usually with my fresh Diet Coke straight from the vending machine. I would close all the dryer doors, and make sure the lights were on to signify all was ready to rock and roll. I would turn the televisions on, stock the shelves with the rental returns from the night before, and pick an awesome movie to start my day with. Usually an oldie but a goodie like “Empire Records” or anything with Janeane Garofalo. It was a small store, the laundromat took up most of the room in the building, but it did have games, movies, and miscelanious video store items like posters, candy, and lighters. You always need lighters.

Then I would sit my ass on the stool behind the counter and wait, and watch my movie, and drink my Diet Coke, and sometimes order food for delivery from the pizza place around the corner, or sometimes just eat something out of the vending machine. On cold days in the winter, I would take some quarters out of the “In case people lose quarters in the vending machine” drawer, and turn on a couple of dryers and sit on the old blue chairs and watch the television in there. The same movie played on all the televisions, which I was often reminded of by the “manager” when he would stop in and I would have an R-rated movie playing. “Misssssy,” he’d slither, “Family-friendly.” Oh right. I’d run over and stick Toy Story in.

I don’t remember too much about the manager, other than he was sort of weird and sounded like a snake when he talked. But, I mean, he was a forty-something who managed a small chain of video stores in the Ozarks, so… I’m being nice here.

So there you have it. Buster’s Video and Laundromat. Or to be sure, Buster’s Video and Ye Old Wash House Laundromat, but you know, same, same.

M.

429 Delaware Street

On the corner of Delaware and Fifth Streets in my hometown sits an old, red brick building. The Leavenworth Historical Society calls this building an example of “early 20th Century Revival and Colonial Revival design,” built at the turn of the 20th century. The locals just call it “The Corner Pharmacy.” My mom and I would go down to The Corner Pharmacy when I was a kid, on Saturday afternoons if she had a little change in her pocket, for a grilled cheese sandwich—and if we were lucky—a milkshake to boot. Sometimes we’d stop in for a late breakfast after particularly early basketball games at Nettie Hartnett Elementary. The grill was always piping hot on those Saturdays, with what seemed like a hundred fried egg sandwiches lined up in a row. The Corner Pharmacy was a pharmacy, but it was so much more than that. It was one of the last true relics of small-town prairie life, in a Kansas town that was quickly learning that if it was going to stay relevant, some things would need to change.

If you ask anyone born and raised in Leavenworth they can tell you countless stories about The Corner Pharmacy. The friendly Pharmacist, old whats-his-name, his wife, and teenage son. It was all very Olive Kitteridge from the outside. At some point he’d opened up the diner on the east side of the building and started flipping those fried egg sandwiches for waiting customers. They can tell you, some in painstaking detail, about the black pier frames, and single bay windows extending above the parapet, the wide entablature and decorative cornice, but if you ask what was above The Corner Pharmacy, who sat behind those old bay windows, they might not know. But I do.

In the spring of 1987, I was just finishing up my first year of kindergarten. I had a pretty good handle on my numbers, all the way up past 100. You can ask my mom, I recited them to her ad nauseam while she cleaned the floors, or dusted the wooden window sills, or mowed the yard with the old green push mower. I would walk behind her, believing she could hear me, believing she wanted to hear me, and recite all I had learned. I could count by ones, twos, fives, or tens. Lady’s choice. I was proud. I stuck my chest out, though it still didn’t poke out further than my round belly. I could read. I could write. I was even doing math, a fact that amazed my mother who often said math was her worst subject.

That spring, however, my mother was given an opportunity to finish something she had given up on a long time before, her high school education. On the second floor of 429 Delaware, directly over The Corner Pharmacy, a class was being assembled. A GED class. One for women and men. For those who received assistance from the state, from the government. For people who wanted to better their lives and the lives of their children. And my mom nervoulsy signed up.

I don’t know the logistics of the class. I don’t remember who taught it, or how many times we had to go downtown to the stuffy, carpeted room above The Corner Pharmacy, but I do remember my mother’s scowled face, as she sat on a metal chair, next to another woman, and did math calculations that made no sense to me. I remember sitting under the plastic and metal folding tables, while she worked out the equations, often thrusting her hands below the table to count on her fingers, while the teacher reminded her to try to do “mental math.” I’d count my numbers in my head every time the teacher said that. Hoping to send some of those important numbers telepathically to my mom.

Of course, my mom wasn’t doing kindergarten math. She was doing high school algebra, which if I am being honest, might as well been a foreign language to her, and years later to me. But in that hot room, with a laundry basket of used toys to keep me occupied, and those big bay windows to peer out of, I didn’t know any of that then. I just knew that every time my mother got frustrated, every time she closed the book in aggravation, every time she told the teacher she just couldn’t do it, someone, either the teacher or some other student in the room, would assure her that she could.

Some days I couldn’t stand to watch her make her way through her workbook, so I would sit in those bay windows and watch the traffic below. I would wonder what a “GED” was, whether or not I would have to take the same test, whether or not I would be good at math. I would keep quiet, hold my bladder the whole time, and never interrupt my mother. I may not have understood what was happening, or the gravity of the situation. The way that this had the potential to change my mother’s life. Our lives. But I knew it was important to her, even if I didn’t know or couldn’t remember why. The only thing I do remember, with great certainty, is the day the brown envelope came in the mail. The way she opened it up, smiled down at that piece of paper, said she had done it, she had passed her test, then promptly hid the certificate in her top drawer. Never to be discussed again.

My mom made a decision that day in the spring of 1987, and while all that hard work, those calculations, and late nights may have only amounted to a dollar more an hour at her job, it did wonders for me. It did wonders for my commitment to education, the value I know it can bring to your life. I’m a first-generation college graduate, but I am not a first-generation high school graduate, thanks in part, to the room behind the bay windows on top of The Corner Pharmacy.

M.

Great Glass Elevator

You remember the part of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Charlie and Mr. Wonka shoot out through the roof of the candy factory? Of course you do! It was such a great part of the movie. We just found out that Charlie now owns all of that great factory and is a rich man, which is wonderful since his grandpa is too sick to work (even though he has no problem singing and dancing). Anyway, I have always loved that part of the movie, and I have always been afraid a real elevator will do that one day. Like, for real. I am terrified of elevators, and it’s only part claustrophobia. The other part is the Great Glass Elevator. It’s like how I won’t take baths because I think the bottom will open up and suck me under like in Nightmare on Elm Street, you know what I mean?

I’ve been so scared of getting stuck in an elevator my whole life, that the ONE time it did happen, I totally and completely lost my shit. And I am ashamed to say, several people saw me lose it.

So there we were, at a hotel in Myrtle Beach (I know, I know, I’ve learned my lesson. We don’t go to Dirty Myrtle anymore, but not because of this incident, because eww…) Anyway, there we were outside in the hot tub, the sun had set and a storm blew in. I was there with Jerimiah, Jackson, and my best friend Rachel and her whole family. There was eight of us total. We all decided to head back to our room, which was on like the 10th floor, and because of the storm, everyone in the resort was headed back to their rooms too. Which made the elevator area very crowded. So I got a little nervous, because again, I am afraid of being trapped in an elevator, especially with people I don’t know. So when the first one came down and all the people in my crew loaded up in it, with ALL the other people standing there waiting, I passed. I just couldn’t risk it. I said I would meet them up there, and I stayed put to wait for the second one. Jerimiah decided to stay with me, which ended up being a good thing.

The next elevator came down and dinged. It opened up and no one was on it, so we hopped on. The door closed and I was feeling okay. Then the power flickered in the elevator and it just sort of stopped its humming. You know, that humming that elevators have. At first I thought maybe the door was about to open. Like maybe someone had hit the button after the door closed, but nothing happened. The elevator didn’t move. The door didn’t open. It just sat there. I looked at Jerimiah and he immediately stepped into action.

“It’s probably just a kink,” he said, then he hit the open door button. When nothing happened I completely and totally lost my shit. I immediately started sweating. I grabbed his hand and told him we were gonna die in this elevator, that the air was going to be sucked out of it. Dramatic? Yep. PS… this was right after that cruise ship elevator mishap where those people were crushed and blood came spewing out of the elevator like a real-life damn horror movie. Google it. I can’t even add a link here because it stresses me out too much to recall.

Anyway, my glorious husband was all, “It’s okay.” And he hit the “help” button. We heard some rustling and cracking from the other end and I screamed, assuming that we were headed straight up at break-neck speed, to crash through the roof of the hotel and be shot to our deaths into the ocean. Dear Baby Jesus, don’t let me die at Dirty Myrtle.

Then I did what any sane person would do, I started pounding my fists on the door yelling for someone to help. Turns out, there were a bunch of people on the outside of the elevator. Turns out we had never left the ground. Turns out the hotel knew it was stuck and had already called the maintenance guy over. Turns out this happened from time to time at this hotel.

Meanwhile, J was communicating via the little phone with the fire department, who also knew because they had been alerted, and they told him not to worry, we were in no danger. I was sweating though my clothes. Should I strip? I should strip my bathing suit off, right? I wanted to know. “Dear God, no, just calm down,” as he kept touched my arm and told me we were okay. I just couldn’t believe him in that moment because I was steady waiting to blast the fuck off.

Whew.

Turned out though, we were okay. We didn’t die in an elevator in Dirty Myrtle. And I am 90% sure I have shared this story with y’all before, but that is how traumatic it was. And I’m in a hotel this week, and every time I am in one I remember this incident. So there’s that. You are like my therapist today. Thanks, y’all. Thanks.

M.

Backroom at the Video Store

I’ve been working on an essay about some of the jobs I’ve had in my life, and I was sort of, well, cracking myself up (as I do a lot, while my family looks at me in awe and shakes their heads). I was cracking up because I was thinking about that one time I worked at a family-owned video store that had a “backroom.” Yeah, for real. For those of you who aren’t privy, a “backroom” at a video store is where they kept the “adult” movies. And no, I don’t mean the Bowling for Columbine documentary, I mean porn. Straight up, hard-core porn. We had soft-core too, cause we weren’t animals. We were the only one in town with a “backroom,” and we were popular. Even when Blockbuster came to town, our little video store survived at least a decade or two more because, well, people are gross. (Side note: I worked at Blockbuster when the little video store folded. That’s where I was re-introduced to Jerimiah and we started dating. He was the store manager, at 19. It obviously wasn’t that hard to work at Blockbuster Video.)

Anyway, this little video store was called, “Home Video” and it sat on the corner of Cherokee and 6th Streets, right across from the Water Department, and (when I was there) right below a nightclub that favored a fog machine on Friday nights. Which meant every Friday at 10:00 pm, an hour before we closed, the store would fill up with “fog” and people would scream thinking there was a fire and exit the backroom in a hurry. Then I’d tell them it was probably because God knew what they were doing. Hehe.

Anyway, there were a lot of, oh let’s call them “quirks” about Home Video that made it a unique, albeit bizarre, experience for the two or so years I worked there, which was just after high school, while I was at the local community college. One of them were the owners themselves, Del and Linda. One of the oldest employees filled me in fast about old Del and Linda. Apparently, they were first-cousins from Minnesota. Or Michigan? Or maybe Milwaukee? Either way, they were definitely cousins, and definitly had to sign a letter when they got married that said they wouldn’t have kids. Then they promptly had two kids. Two boys. And by the time I met them they were grown, one was married with kids of his own, and while he was weird (that’s being kind) he was normal-ish. The other one, well, I felt really sorry for him. He sort of crept around downtown Leavenworth. He lived alone in an apartment near the store, but his parents didn’t actually let him work there. I think he was probably on social security, or disability. I don’t know what was wrong with him, but he had trouble walking and standing up straight. But he was my favorite of the two. He was polite and quiet. He just liked to stop in a talk to me sometimes, and I was okay with that. I would even let him shelve movies if he wanted. He’s the one that told me about the other weird thing: Linda’s Disney collection.

Apparently, Linda had a locked room in the basement that was full of Disney products. First release VHS tapes, cardboard cut-outs, special promotional items. And this, he told me one day, was a secret. It was also her retirement plan. She was going to sell off all her stuff and get an RV and travel around the country with Del and their giant Great Danes (of which she allowed to roam free in the store from time to time.) Weird shit, y’all. So of course after that, I made it my life’s ambition to see this “Disney room” in the basement, and would often make up reasons to go down there. I knew that they had cameras EVERYWHERE, they had too. Too many freaks in and out of the backroom, so I was always cautious. I’d have to stock up the candy, or look for more shrink wrap. I’d usually do it when it was just Del and me in the store. One day I finally found the extra room and tried the knob, but it was locked. I wasn’t getting into that bitch.

Usually I was the only one at the store when I worked there, because I worked Sunday mornings, when they had church, and Thursday nights, which weren’t all that busy. But I was also in charge of employees from time to time, like on Fridays and Saturdays when there would have to be at least two of us working the night shift. It was always fun when it was with someone I liked, like my friend Toni. We had a great time working the weekends together. Mainly we watched the video in the backroom, from the closed circuit tv we had under the front desk. That tv had a one-way microphone attached to it, so that we could tell the people back there that we were closing in five minutes. Or, more usually, we could click the microphone on, which made a loud clicking noise, then say in a low, slow voice, “God knows you’re here.”

I watched a lot of people I knew come in and out of that backroom. Teachers, noted members of the communities, friend’s family members and parents. They would spot me from the outside, as the store was all windows on one side, and sort of try to spelunk into the room without making eye contact with me. But alas, I was the one who had to check them out, remember the whole I was there alone thing, so I it was pointless. They would look around when they came out of the backroom, waiting for someone else to come to the front, pretending like they were browsing the “New Releases” until eventually they gave up and walked up. I’d say something smart ass like, “Castaway just won’t do it for you, huh? Not a Tom Hanks fan?” And they would squirm and say they have never watched “one of these movies,” then I’d say, “That’s not what your account shows…” I was kind of a bitch, but I mean, it was menial work for 6.00/hr, I had to get my kicks too, you know?

Of course there were times when I was embarrassed. Like when we’d get a new shipment of backroom movies, and Del and I would stand at the counter on a Friday afternoon and take the tapes out of the boxes, put them in their black rental cases, and shrink wrap the VERY explicit boxes they came in. Linda had nothing to do with the ordering or displaying of the backroom, she was an “outta sight, outta mind” kinda Christian. So it fell on Del and me. We’d both stand there, in relative silence, while Toy Story or Harry Potter played on the television screens in the store, and wrap titles like, “Facial Blasts from the Past,” “Buttman’s Big Titty Adventure,” “Boobsville Caberat: Where the Boys Aren’t,” and “Dumb-ass Fucking Sluts” or what it “Dumb, Ass-Fucking Sluts”? I just don’t remember. I can go on. Want me to go on? No? Okay.

So there it is, my Home Video days. It wasn’t too long, but you know, it was long enough for me to get some good quality fun in, while meeting some unique people, learning about shame (I was researching shame like Brene and I didn’t even know it! Haha!) and to make me realize how gross it all was. So thanks, Home Video. Thanks Del and Linda. Thanks to Lee Anne, who hooked me up with her job when she adandoned me for Boston. Thanks Toni, for the fun times. Thanks Jen and Roger for spending so much time at Home Video it was like you worked there, even though you didn’t. We had some fun.

M.

Limit Ten

I’ve been thinking a lot about the library of my youth. I’ve been remembering all the time I spent there, on the long, blue sectional couch that wrapped all the way around the front lobby of the library, from the children’s section to the foyer. I’ve been remembering the glass blocks that encircled the Check-Out desk, where I’d tell the librarian that I forgot my card again, or when I had to call my mom for a ride home when I didn’t have a quarter, or when there was a book I needed help getting off the high shelf. I spent a lot of time at the Leavenworth Public Library as a kid. My middle school was a block from the library, so sometimes I’d be able to talk my mom into walking to the library after school and hanging for a few hours. The library was the first place I discovered internet. It was where I did my volunteer time for student council, it was the place I found the New York Times, and the Kansas Room, and the pleasure of curling up with a book—that was way too advanced for me—on one of the pink sofas in the back of the library, where adults read the newspapers, and plants and statues stood watch over the weird, curved windows overlooking 4th Street.

When I was a kid there was a ten book limit when you checked out books from the library. This was always hard for me, both because I am an avid reader, and because I suffer from FOMO. What if the ten books I decided on were not as good as I had hoped? What if my mom won’t bring me back for another week? What if I read them all in one day? I was anxious as a kid. The reference section was a good place for me. It had small shelves, easily accessible, and I never had to worry about which book to check out because you couldn’t take any of them home with you. Same with the periodicals. So I spent most of my time thumbing through those sections, with my stack of ten books waiting for me at checkout.

I’m not sure the architecture of the building, but I can see it clearly, it’s black overhang shielding me just enough from the rain on a wet and cold Saturday morning when my mom would swing her 1972 Dodge Cornett into the lot for me to race up and shove my books into the return. There were always plants planted just outside the door, and just inside was a water fountain that I stopped at a number times for a gulp after I had walked the block from East Middle School.

The original public library in Leavenworth, like many other small towns, was built in 1900 from funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. It was a two-story brick and limestone building, originally named the Carnegie Library, and it was, and still is, designated on the state and national registry of historic places. The library of my youth was built in 1987, and when it was brand new it was one of the most unique buildings in our small town.

Not much had changed in the library the last time I visited, but that was maybe ten years ago. There were still the same old blue chairs on the small desks for studying. The same glass blocks around the offices behind the check-out desk, and the same pink chairs in the back. The same plants. The same statues. The same weird, curved windows. And of course, the same smell. That old, musty library smell. I’ve come to love that smell, and as of late, miss it a little.

The library is actually two stories, but most people didn’t know that because most people didn’t venture upstairs. Upstairs was mainly just administrative offices, but once or twice as a kid I’d meander to the elevator, wait for the beep, then head upstairs. It was always quiet up there, always neat as a pin. Always a little dark. It wouldn’t take long for me to become afraid that someone would catch me and I would race back down the stairs on the north side. It always felt like a close call.

The year I spent volunteering at the library, seventh grade I believe, was spent mostly shelving books, living and dying by Dewey Decimal. I also got to spend a bit of time in the kid’s room, where I would sometimes cut out shapes for children to glue together, or help little ones find the book they were looking for. I usually got suckered into a corner by a kids’ book myself, and would lounge on the giant bean bag chairs with a Sesame Street reader until the cart was full of books to be shelved again. Volunteer of the year right there!

It’s a little funny, but I don’t know why I am telling you all this today. I don’t know why over the last few months I have been drawn to old buildings. The ones I knew growing up. Why the places we spent time in as a child, end up being so important to us as adults. And maybe they aren’t. Maybe I’m weird. Either way, sometimes, when I can’t find a comfy spot to read my borrowed book of essays, or I walk into a fancy, new library around my new town, I can’t help but wish I was back in Leavenworth. On one of those musty, pink couches. A secret bag of Doritos in my book bag, and the current copy of the Kansas City Star on my lap. Trying to figure a ride home. An escape from that town. A way out of that life. Maybe that is exactly what the library is for.

M.

The Wheel Thing

When I was in fifth grade the cool thing to do was hit up the skating rink. I was a horrible skater. Like very, very bad. But I’d been to the skating rink for as long as I could remember. Leavenworth is a small town, only about 45,000 people or so. Which means on the weekends there isn’t much for kids to do. The teenagers worshipped The Wheel Thing which was the name of the local skating rink. Having an older, cool, teenage sister I was privy to The Wheel Thing well before it was appropriate for me to be, and by the time I was in fifth grade I spent every Friday night there with all the other pre-teens and teenagers.

The Wheel Thing opened up shop in 1970, and by 1986 had switched owners to Kay and Ron Beaman, who up until last year were the sole proprietors and the iconic pair who sold you tickets, picked out your skates, and made you a kick-ass Suicide from the soda machine. Ron even sometimes ran the mic for a limbo session in his rainbow suspenders and funny mustache.

I started going skating “by myself” (sans my older sister or mother sitting on one of the carpeted benches watching me) when I was in fifth grade, and I skated through most of middle school there too.

The Wheel Thing had a large half paved, half graveled parking lot. My mom would whip her old 1972 Dodge Cornett into the lot at dusk on Friday nights to drop me off. I would hop out, my head down, hoping no one would see me in that old beater. I’d sling my purple and white skates onto my shoulder, and race toward the double doors.

There was one entrance door and one exit door. Depending on when you got there on Friday evenings, there could either be a line out the entrance door, down the front steps, or just a few kids waiting inside the hot, stinky corridor between the outside doors and the inside doors. There was a small window on one side of the corridor where Kay would sell tickets. I don’t remember how much it was to skate on the weekends, but I do remember that my mom would give me a five dollar bill and that covered both my entrance, my speed skate rental (if I got really crazy and wanted to upgrade) and usually one soda for the whole night. Afterward I had to reuse the cup at the water fountain.

The corridor was the worse part of The Wheel Thing. If the line was long you had to wait in that small, smelly area, its carpet reeking with teenage sweat and dirty socks. A smell that only a skating rink offers. Not to mention the fact that the second set of doors were not glass, which meant you had no idea how many people were there, if your friends had made it yet, or if your crush had showed up. You had to wait, your skate laces digging into your shoulder, in that stinky, little room, wondering about all the fun that was going on inside. You could hear the muffled music. You could catch a glimpse of neon light under the cracks of the door, but it wasn’t until your turn to pay at the window, when you could crane your neck around to see who was in there. Usually I would spot my friend Melody, who seemed to live at The Wheel Thing, and my heart would jump up into my chest with relief.

The next few hours were always a blur. There would be couples skate, where you would hope a boy asked you to hold holds and slowly skate around the oval rink, your sweaty hands entwined, while older, much better skaters would skate like they were dancing, the boy even skating backwards. Then there was limbo, which always made me fall by the third round. There was that game where the cute DJ brought out the giant fuzzy dice and rolled them and you had to stand on a number until your number was rolled and you were eliminated. You always wanted to win that one because you got a free song dedication and a suicide at the snack bar!

On one of my birthdays, maybe my 12th or 13th, my friends told the cute DJ it was my birthday. For birthdays they would make all of you go out into the center of the rink and the whole place would sing happy birthday to you. They would scream it. I remember standing in the middle of a bunch of sweaty Virgos, my face red from sweat and embarrassment, my fingers pushed into my ears, and a smile across my face. It was the worst day ever, but also the best day ever.

As we got older, boys became more involved with our trips to The Wheel Thing. We would plan our outings with them at school, but not tell our mothers, who probably knew about our plans anyway. It was a way to “date” before you could actually “date.” To be fair, I did the least amount of Wheel Thing dating, I mainly just watched my friends run into the dark corners with their boyfriends and steal kisses. I was usually the look-out, until the one night I wasn’t. I was so nervous the whole time. My boyfriend and I snuck into the back corner, between two pinball machines. He was just as nervous as I was. It was a quick kiss, just to say we had done it, then I worried for hours whether or not I would have to marry him. I didn’t like him all that much.

At the end of the evening, one of the parent’s would pick us up. Usually Melody’s mom, in her Trans Am with the cool t-tops. We would pile into the backseat, our skates jammed at our feet on the floorboard, too many young, sweaty girls in the back. Melody’s mom would jam music, and we would hold our hands and arms out the open windows so the wind could blow our sweat, and our sins, away.

RIP The Wheel Thing, you are in a lot of fond memories.

M.

Anthony Elementary School

I Googled my elementary school today. I’m not sure what made me do it. Maybe seeing all the back to school photos of friends’ kids. Maybe dropping my own child at his first day of his last year in elementary school. Maybe I’m feeling sad, nostalgic, old. Either way, I Googled the old girl and was surprised by what I didn’t remember about Anthony Elementary School, and what I did.

Anthony Elementary School in Leavenworth, Kansas was built in 1950*, funded in part, by a grant from the Ford Foundation. It was named after the Daniel Read Anthony family, who first came to Leavenworth from Massachusetts in 1854 with the first Emigrant Aid Company. The First Emigrant Aid Company was responsible for bringing Free State settlers to vote against Kansas becoming a slave state. Daniel R. Anthony may not be as well known outside of Leavenworth, where he was both a conductor of the local Underground Railroad and the owner of the Leavenworth Times (Kansas’ oldest newspaper) but his sister, Susan B. Anthony, might ring a bell. I knew none of this back then. I have a faint memory of learning about Susan B. Anthony and her family. I have an even fainter memory of connecting those dots in my head when I was maybe a second grader. I remember thinking she was pretty and strong. What I did know about my school was that it was a Title I, low-performing elementary school in the 1980s, smack dab in the middle of the “good” side of town and the “not good” side of town, and it brought a lot of different worlds together.

My mother walked me up to the front door of Anthony when I was a very tall five-year-old. Having a September birthday, I would turn six just two weeks after school started, always making me one of the oldest kids in my class. I would be nearly 19 when I graduated high school. But I wasn’t thinking about high school that day, I was thinking about not wrinkling my dress. I was wondering if my mother would stay with me all day. I was sliding around from sweaty feet in slick sandals.

My classroom was brightly colored. It housed a row of cubes where we’d put our Kleenex boxes and paint, wall hooks for backpacks and lunchboxes, and an upright piano. I didn’t have a lunchbox. I was a free-lunch kid. I didn’t know that on my first day of kindergarten, but by middle school this fact would push my head lower and lower down, everyday, as I moved through the hot food line. On my first day of kindergarten, however, my head was high, albeit full of anxiety. I smiled when Mrs. McKim, my very tall, very lovely teacher took my hand and showed me where my desk was. I followed her, looking back a few times to make sure my mom was still there. She was, standing with the other parents at the back of the classroom, much too close to the door for my liking. In my memory this is when things get jumbled, but my mom remembers it pretty clearly. I started to cry. And I didn’t stop crying for three days.

On day two, Mrs. McKim let my mom come inside the classroom again. They tried to console me, to introduce me to new friends, but I couldn’t see anyone through the tears clouding my vision. On day three, Mrs. McKim watched me walk into the classroom, and just when my mom was about to follow, she stopped her, and closed the classroom door. I panicked. I ran to the door to watch the scene unfold. My mother was crying outside the door, I was crying inside the door. Mrs. McKim, her hand on my mother’s shaking shoulder, told her it would be best to leave. Just leave me there, and walk away. I hated Mrs. McKim for this, for much longer than I should have. It wasn’t until my son went to preschool, and his teacher told me to go, while he screamed and groped for me and she held him back, that I realized what Mrs. McKim had done. And how important it was to do.

That day Mrs. McKim switched her tactic with me too. She let me sit at my desk and cry for an hour or so, then she pulled me aside and told me that I was disrupting the class and would have to go sit in the library, right across the hall, all by myself. A few minutes later I was all alone at a desk in the library. The librarian Mrs. Simmons, was busy walking around shelving books, big kids were coming in and out looking oddly at me. I sat, crying, until it felt like I had no more tears to cry. Then Mrs. Simmons walked in with two of my classmates, Robin and Pam. She walked up to my desk and introduced them both. She said they were girls in my class, and that made them my friends. Pam, whose sweet, chubby cheeks shined in the library light, asked me if I would be her friend. I said yes. Then Robin and Pam stood on each side of me and took me back to the classroom, hand in hand. I never cried again in kindergarten.

A few years ago my sweet friend Pam died. An undiagnosed medical condition, if I remember correctly. She never lost her sweetness, though. Not one ounce, even when we drifted apart years later. I can still see her chubby, rosy cheeks. I can still feel her hand in mine. I still remember her earnestness. Her need to be my friend. Her determination to make me feel safe.

It’s been a long time since I stepped foot inside Anthony Elementary School. An even longer time since I have felt that particular pain. The kind that sticks with you. The kind that shapes you. I may have went to a Title I, low-performing school in an economically diverse area of the Midwest, but I never felt underserved or overlooked. I felt lucky. I felt content. And today I am feeling thankful.

Thanks, Anthony Elementary School. For the teachers like Mrs. McKim, Mrs. Coughran, Mrs. Nixon and Mrs. Heim. Thanks for Mrs. Albright, and Mrs. Simmons, and Mrs. Parks. For Coach Hendee and Mr. Parks. Thanks for the lifelong friendships. Thanks for the blacktop and Oregon Trail. Thanks for the Halloween parades and the fifth grade talent show. Thanks for being a safe-haven, for a painfully shy little girl who is the woman she is today because of the foundation you gave her.

M.

*It’s important to note that Anthony has been through a few renovations, including a major overhaul in 2010, and has survived in Leavenworth, where many of the other schools have been vacated, or turned into housing or commercial spaces. I’ve included a current picture below to show the progress.

Popsicle Sticks

I started walking to get Jackson from school this week. It is one mile there and one mile back if I take the “long route”. I take the long route because the long route involves a stoplight, whereas the shortcut involves waiting for a break in a busy state highway, in Atlanta, then running like mad across five lanes while you scream “Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me!” So I prefer the stoplight.

So this week I walked the two miles every day. By day two I had already developed shin splint. By day three my whole body hurt like I was an active person. But by day four I felt okay. I track my walk with my Apple Watch and my Apple Watch, for usually being a little, whiny bitch, has actually been pretty helpful. Everyday I’d cut my time down by 30 seconds. And by day two, Jackson didn’t even mind the walking. By day four he told me he looked forward to it. Not only is it good, quality time with his mommy (heart swoon), but “walkers” get out ten minutes before “car riders”. Oh, yep. That’s the real reason.

Anyway, on Thursday I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was missing something. But I had my Apple Watch on, and my phone in my hand just in case. So what was it that I needed. Then I realized that I was missing 15 popsicle sticks.

I don’t know if you guys had to do this, or even remember it, but when I was in fifth grade in Kansas there was such a thing as The Presidential Fitness Test. It consisted of a bunch of bullshit, if you were to ask a chubby Little Missy, like the despised “Sit and Reach”, where Mr. Hendee, our beloved, normally very rational and nice P.E. teacher, taped a yard stick to a cardboard box and you had to sit with your legs straight against the box and reach out on the yard stick as far as you could. What was the purpose? Who fucking knows! But it was for sure something we had to do twice a year. Along with “Pull-Ups” which was just us hanging on a bar until our hands gave up. I always lasted about five seconds. Then there were push-ups and sit-ups with your friend sitting on your feet (my BFF LeeAnne was as heavy as a damn stick, and I would just lift her up every time I sat up. She was useless). Then there was the dreaded one-mile run.

The dreaded one-mile run took place in the “soccer field” which was just the bit of grass after the blacktop where the cool boys played soccer at recess. Mr. Hendee set up bright orange cones. Just two. And we had to run around them 16 times. That, as he had equated, was a mile. I dunno how far apart the cones had to be, you do the math.

How did you keep track of your laps? Great question. Every time you passed Mr. Hendee, he handed you a popsicle stick. So by the end of your run you had 15 popsicle sticks in your sweaty, little hands. I often, OFTEN, wondered if they were used popsicle sticks, but never asked. Did I really want to know?

Anyway, one time, on the night before the dreaded one-mile run, I had been playing outside with my friends well into the evening. The street lights had just come on when I heard my mom’s unmistakable whistle that meant it was time for me to come in. As I got on my bike, my foot got tangled up with my pedal and fell, my bike coming down hard on my ankle. Later that night, after some medicine, it was still a little swollen and tender to the touch but it was decided that I would survive. Nothing seemed broken. But just to be safe, my mom would write Mr. Hendee a note to tell him that I was not to run the next day. WHAAAAAA?! I had no idea you could do that! I was amazed with my mom and her powers.

The next day I went to school with very little pain and a normal sized ankle, and the note happily tucked into my backpack. When P.E. time came the pain “suddenly” came back to my ankle. I started limping for effect, and everyone was asking me what was wrong. Ankle. I said. Probably broken. I limped slowly up toward Mr. Hendee when we were still in the gym. He eyed me suspiciously. I handed him the note, then looked pathetically down at my ankle.

“Did your mom take you to the doctor,” he asked, folding the note back up and putting it in his shirt pocket. He always had shirts with pockets.

I shook my head no.

“Okay, he said. You can make it up next week. Let’s go class!”

My mouth sank. Whaaaaaa?! I thought I would be exempt from the whole run, but apparently this was not Mr. Hendee’s first rodeo.

I got to hand out the popsicle sticks that day. One after the other, to sweaty, unwashed, little hands. Then the next week I had to run by myself, around the gym, while everyone else was playing parachute. Hmpf. Ain’t that some shit?

So there you go. I learned my lesson. I never tried to get out of another mile run again. And all this week, going back and forth, the two miles everyday, nothing to hold in my sweaty, unwashed hands, I suddenly missed those damn popsicle sticks to keep me company.

Thanks Mr. Hendee. For calling me out on my bullshit. And for teaching me how to juggle scarves.

M.

My Friend Zeke

My mom as a housekeeper when I was a kid. She worked full-time cleaning military barracks at Fort Leavenworth, but she worked part-time (mainly weekends) cleaning private homes. I would often accompany her on her weekend cleanings, where I would mainly sit and wait patiently for her to clean someone else’s house, before she went home and cleaned our own. My mom was well-known around town for being very tidy, punctual, and trustworthy. She also beat most competitor prices, especially those “maid services” that were popping up around that time in the late 80s. Before long she had some clients she preferred more than others, who treated her well (and me), and she was able to cut off a lot of the other ones. One of those such clients were a couple of local doctors who had a beautiful, and quite large, house out in the country, across from a field of horses. They had no family near, they were both from New York, and they were both retired Army, having worked their way through med school while serving. They didn’t have children, but they did have the biggest dog I have ever seen and will probably ever see, his name was Zeke, he was a Great Dane, and for a little while he was my best friend.

Zeke was large and brown and looked exactly like Scooby-Doo. Apparently that is one of the things I first said when I met him. I asked why they didn’t name him Scooby-Doo. Missy, the wife, agreed with me and threw her hand out toward her husband in an exasperated manner saying, “This one doesn’t like Scooby-Doo.” That may be why I never really liked her husband, but that didn’t matter much to me because along with Zeke, they had a grand piano, a pantry full of gourmet snack foods I had never heard of, and an above-ground swimming pool that they allowed me to swim in whenever we came over.

I remember the first time I was alone in the great room. Missy had been home when we got there one Saturday morning, but said she’d be running out for errands in a bit. While my mom immediately started cleaning, I sat up shop at the dining room table, which my mom had picked for me, being what seemed the safest spot for a messy six-year-old, in a room full of antique furniture and family heirlooms. It was a modern, sturdy table and it fit more people than I thought you would ever need to. I swung my feet, too small for them to reach the floor, back and forth and I drew in my notebook that I had brought.

Missy came into the room from the kitchen, her sweats on, her hair pulled back, and her bag slung over her shoulder. She asked what I was doing, and I showed her the picture of the star I was working on. She told me she had a trick to drawing stars, and asked if I wanted to see. I said yes, and she came over and taught me how to draw those stars, you know the ones, made of triangles, where you never lift your pen from the paper. I thought it was magic!

Then she told me that she was leaving, her husband was golfing all day, and the house was mine. She asked me to play ball with Zeke at some point, and she suggested I play the piano as no one had touched it in years. I was amazed, but suppressed the giant smile I felt inside, and waved goodbye. I ran to the window when I heard the garage door open and watched while her small BMW pulled out of the driveway. I listened for my mom, as I slowly walked by the piano and lightly touched the keys, tempting myself to push one down. I heard a vacuum somewhere far away in the house, and I froze. Even though Missy had said I could play it, I knew if my mom heard me she would run downstairs and scold me for touching it. So instead I grabbed the tennis ball from the basket that sat near the front door, and turned to yell for Zeke, but before I could get his name out of my mouth, he came zooming around the side of the stairs so fast that he ran into me and knocked us both down.

“Zeke!” I yelled, in the middle of Great Dane kisses and happy tail wags. I was not experienced with dogs. We never owned one. We were renters, and usually pet deposits were too expensive. Not to mention the cost to feed them, take them to the vet, and what about if they made a big mess or broke something? We simply couldn’t afford a pet, pets were luxuries reserved for rich people. But here I was, face to face with this giant, cuddly guy, who wanted nothing more than to be my best friend. It was the day things changed for me. They day that I started to realize that not all people live like we do. That not all people just have to dream about having a dog that loves them. The day I started to piece together what I wanted my adult life to look like one day.

Zeke and I played ball that day. We played in the backyard, in the front yard. We played in the family room downstairs, until my mom came down to clean and kicked us out. We played every day that I went to Missy’s house after that. When I swam in the pool after my mom finished cleaning, and she sat on the deck talking to Missy, both of them drinking Diet Cokes as Missy’s husband yelled about how bad Diet Coke were for you, Zeke would jump into the pool to chase me. When they went out of town, they asked my mom to house-sit for a week, and they asked me to dog-sit. This happened several times, over many years, and I was always delighted. In those moments I was allowed to fully live out my dream. My big, beautiful house with a master bathroom that had a shower with a built in seat, and a basement with a ping-pong table and a big screen television. But mostly, I was able to lay out in the front yard, with it’s meticulously mowed Kentucky Bluegrass, Zeke next to me, a tennis ball in his mouth, and tell him all my little girl dreams.

Eventually my mom stopped house-sitting and I stopped pet-sitting. Missy and her husband had a couple of kids. Her mother moved to Kansas. Missy got cancer. Her husband got sued. Zeke died. I grew into an angsty teen. I forgot all those little girl dreams. But on certain sunny, summer days, I think about my friend Zeke and our time together. When I am floating in a clear, flat pool, when I see a tennis ball roll from under a couch, when my own dog jumps at me with such force I have to steady myself, on those days I think about Zeke, and I remember those dreams, buried way down inside, and I know those dreams are what is pushing me, driving me to do what I do. Reminding me why my husband and I have made the sacrifices that we have. We might not have a BMW, or a three-level home with a pool, but we climbed from the lives we knew, the lives we were destined for, and we are still climbing, everyday, for us, for our son, for the people who can’t make the climb. And we are so thankful for those people who reached back and pulled us along with them. It reminds us to do the same.

Thanks, Missy, for teaching me to draw stars, so I could cast myself out into the world with them.

Thanks Zeke, for listening and loving, all those years ago. I hope you are somewhere chasing tennis balls all day long.

And thanks, Mom, for letting me tag along all the time, everywhere. Allowing me to have experiences and meet people that other kids like me don’t have the privilege of. And thanks too, for never thinking my big, little dreams were too far off. Who knew we’d make it this far.

M.

PS… This isn’t Zeke, but this is certainly how I remember him. When he would hit you with his tail (from excitement) it would leave a mark!

The Bomber

My second grade teacher Mrs. Parks was reading the whole class an Aesop Fable. I don’t remember which one it was. Maybe it was The Tortoise and the Hare or maybe it was The Boy Who Cried Wolf, I just remember that my entire second grade class was sitting crisscross applesauce in a sorta-circle under the blackboard. Yes, we had a blackboard. Actually, I think it was green, not black. We called it a chalkboard. We also had a music staff liner that we’d stuff with chalk to make lines on the board for handwriting practice. Yes, I’m real-chalkboard-in-the-classroom old. Anyway, there we were 20 or so eight-year-olds sitting sorta-circle on the linoleum floor in front of our ancient chalkboard, looking up eagerly at our teacher as she read from a large picture book. Before every turn of the page she would slowly turn the book around in one of those here-it-comes-kids sorta ways. This little game could go on for a long time. We never got tired of the excitement of seeing the beautiful illustrated pages. It’s like we craved the jitters that it gave us. It’s kind weird, I suppose. We were all just little Aesop Fables junkies. But I digress. The pertinent information here is that our small bodies would go from tense, to relaxed every minute or so, which is fine and dandy if you don’t have a track record of tooting in your pants.

There I was sitting between Stephanie, the girl with the two moms, and Billy the kid with diabetes, and they were poking at each other in front of me. I kept slapping at Billy’s hand when he would reach over me to poke Stephanie. Eventually Mrs. Parks noticed my dilemma and told them to stop, taking the burden off of me. But they didn’t, so she motioned for me to come sit next to her. This made me happy because I am forever a Teacher’s Pet. But, that also meant that I had to sit next to Dusty. Ugh. Dusty. He was a mess. He always had to sit next to Mrs. Parks because he couldn’t be trusted otherwise.

So I start to shuffle on my hands and knees to the spot in front of Mrs. Parks, when I feel a sneeze coming on. I tried to scuttle faster, but my classmates were everywhere making it hard for me to get to my spot, so instead I just kind of sheltered in place. I stopped in the middle of the sorta-circle and sat on my knees, leaned back a bit, and braced for the sneeze impact. And then I snarted.

Yeah, you’re not gonna find that word in the OED, but basically I sneeze/farted. Not to be confused with sharting. I didn’t shart. I let out a snart. And the whole class heard it. And Mrs. Parks stopped reading. And Billy stopped his poking. And the room fell silent. And Dusty yelled, “Melissa let out a bomber!” and the laughter came quicker than the snart had. My face got really hot. And my body got really hot. And my lunch started to bubble up in my throat, and I thought I might throw up chocolate milk and chili. The laughter was intense and Mrs. Parks kindly tried to get control of them, but it took a few moments. Meanwhile everyone was looking at me, sitting on my legs, in the middle of the sorta-circle. I didn’t know what to do. I panicked. I looked over at Shawn, the blonde kid next to me. We locked eyes for a split second and then I said, in a low, shaky voice, “It was Shawn.” Then more laughter as Dusty pointed at Shawn and said, “Shawn let out a bomber!” Then I hung my head and scooted back to my original spot. I deserved it. And Shawn never said a word about it.

So I guess I’m here to publicly say: I am sorry, Shawn. I’m a dirty, rat-bastard with bad gastro-intestinal issues that have plagued me since childhood and you were one of my victims. I wish I could have owned up to my snart, but you get it, man. Girls just can’t afford to be the bomber in second grade. We just can’t afford it.

Thanks, Shawn. Thanks.

M.

Write Brain

I have these memories that sort of live on the cusp of my brain and they nag at me, and nag at me, and nag at me, until I take the time to write them down. They aren’t particularly special moments, or important, or a moment that other people might think should be memorable, but they spring up in my brain when I am doing other things and I can’t seem to shake them. They are called Involuntary Autobiographical Memories (IAMs), seriously. That is what the mental health community has decided to call them, and they are more common than I thought, which is helpful for someone like me, who is always afraid I am weird and my brain doesn’t work like it should. None of that is important, and honestly would be best discussed with my therapist, or a my physician, or an unsuspecting bartender. But I do have to share the following story today or I will have sweaty night dreams about it. So, enjoy?

I am about four years old. We are headed to Southern Texas, Corpus Christi, to be exact, and we are riding a Greyhound bus. It is hot, my teenage sister is cranky, per usual, and my mom is nervous. I can tell because when she is nervous she shakes her legs up and down in her seat in a fidgety sorta way. I have to pee. I ask my mother to pee in the bathroom they have on the bus and she says no, absolutely not. I start to wonder why she is so against me going pee in the bathroom. There is a bathroom on the bus, and it is clearly marked. I’m only four, but I can read. I start to worry that I won’t be able to hold it much longer. I sit silently and look down at my shoes. I am wearing Jellies. You know what I mean, those cool sandals from the 80s that lacked both structure and support. They were colored, with flecks of glitter in them, and they are the reason a whole generation of 40-year-old women now have plantar fasciitis.

Anyway, I had to pee. And I was very afraid the I was going to have an accident and that pee would run down my leg and into my Jellies, where it would pool in the sticky, plastic sole, and I would have to walk in my own pee for the rest of the trip. Again, I was four. And it was hot. And I was on a Greyhound bus.

I put my hand on my mom’s leg to sort of calm her in some way, then I lied and said I didn’t have to pee anymore. I probably said this because I thought she was nervous because I had to pee, and she didn’t know when we would stop next. We did stop occasionally, though I have no recollection of the stops.

When I looked back up I made eye contact with a man walking toward the back of the bus where the bathroom was. He smiled a polite smile. He was wearing cut-off shorts and a blue t-shirt with the arms cut off of it. He made his way back to the bathroom. I turned my head to be sure he went in. A little while later, the whole bus filled with a horrible smell and I involuntarily scrunched up my nose and said, “Eww!” My mom shushed me. It wasn’t polite. But then she moved her shirt to her nose and bounced her legs up and down again. And that was that.

Weird isn’t it? That is all I remember about the Greyhound Bus on our way to Corpus Christi, Texas in the early 1980s. I don’t remember the color of the seats, or the scenery that we passed. I don’t remember stopping at a McDonalds to eat and use the bathroom. I don’t remember what my mom or sister were wearing, or the odor that inhabits a bus like that. I remember my shoes. I remember that I had to pee. I remember the man and the way my mother reacted to the whole thing.

I remember more about the trip once we arrived, like my oldest sister’s house, the reason for going to Corpus Christi was to see her. I remember her creepy boyfriend, Rick, and his work van. I even remember the night they had a party and everyone drank beer. I remember my mom’s friend Debbie, who came along, but I only remember her sitting on a metal folding chair on the front porch of the house, talking about how hot it was and wiping the sweat from her breasts. Otherwise, it’s like she wasn’t even there.

Involuntary Autobiographical Memories. Ain’t that some shit.

M.

When we made it to Corpus Christi, I got new shoes (I hope I didn’t actually pee on my other ones). And I got a new shirt. And I was allowed to walk around in the back of a Rick’s work van. The one that had folding chairs for seats. So yeah, kickass.

Bloody Mary

In a quiet suburban home on a cul-de-sac, with a Subaru and a Honda Odyssey in the drive, seven girls cram into an upstairs guest bathroom. The walls are covered in a floral pattern, there are tooth brushes lining the sink, there is mold, unbeknownst to the home owners, growing beneath. Six of those girls jump into the bathtub and pull the shower curtain to hide their faces. They are shaking with nerves, but relieved they are not the girl who has to stand next to the light switch, for her role is much more dangerous. The girl by the light switch moves her hand slowly toward the switch and asks the group if they are ready. One girl squeals. One says she changed her mind and wants out. The others quickly grab her, pushing her deeper into the middle of Nike shorts and pink training bras, to be frozen at a later, undisclosed time. The bathroom goes dark. One girl channels some courage and she starts, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…

None of the girls know who Bloody Mary is. They’ve heard stories. Bloody Mary was a young girl who killed her parents. She was a teenager who lost a baby. She may or may not be Mary I, Queen of England, a matronly, forty-ish woman with stringy hair and zero fashion sense. Either way, Bloody Mary wants them. She needs them. She uses her fingernails to scratch their faces until they die. Bloody Mary wants, they think, to slowly kill them as to bathe in their virgin blood in the moon of a Saturday night.

Bloody Mary’s vengeful spirit only comes if you chant her name thirteen times. She only comes when summoned. And only pre-teen girls at a suburban slumber party can summon her. Only pre-teen suburban girls know that after the thirteenth time her name is said, red dots appear on the bathroom mirror. The dots mean she is with them. The dots mean they have done it.

Once, in my own bathroom, we summoned her. I reluctantly climbed into my own shower, pulled the curtain and watched my friends’ faces quickly disappear with a flip of the switch. Then, as if by intuition, we began to chant: Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary… I thought about stopping it. I just knew it wouldn’t be true. I knew there would be no dots on the mirror, that the legend was a myth. One of my friends grabbed my sweaty hand. I tensed up.

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…

The chanting speed leveled, but the excitement in our bodies raised our voices. We started to slowly rock back and forth, our bodies bumping in the tub, swaying back and forth with each Bloody and Mary. Maybe my mom would hear us and open the door. Maybe she would come in and save us, and say that this was ridiculous, and that there was no Bloody Mary, and that we needed to quiet down because it was nearly midnight. I listened for her footsteps, but the hallway was silent.

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…

Feet inching toward the edge of the tub, hands to the shower curtain in anticipation. Sweaty hands and heads. Hot cotton candy, popcorn breathe sucked in hard. In just a moment we would be face to face with the frightening demon-woman who wanted to mutilate our faces in the name of her dead babies, or her Catholic sister, or her horrible parents. One more time and the truth would rise.

Bloody Mary!

The light flipped on, the curtain splayed open, and there on the mirror, thirteen red dots of all shapes and sizes. We had released the deathly spirit! It took but three seconds for the gravity of the situation to set in. We sprang from the tub, feet over shins, shins over thighs, thighs pushing arms. One girl yelped in pain, another pulled herself over the threshold, as she’d been knocked to the floor. We ran down the hall, into the cool air of the open, well-lit living room. The words were nonsensical. There was crying. My mother stepped in the room, horror on her face, what had happened, who was hurt?!

Then, as quickly as she had come, she had left. Bloody Mary was gone, we had not a scratch on us. We knew because the girl who flipped the light switch, God bless her, had said so. We were safe. Bloody Mary had went on to torment the next house, in the next suburb, in the next cul-de-sac, in the next guest bathroom full of pre-teen girls, squirming and squealing in the anticipation of the summoning.

M.